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  • Reverend James Squire

Stockholm Syndrome

I don’t know why I didn’t see it. Stockholm Syndrome has been out of the news for some time.

I first encountered the term many years ago regarding the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst. She was an heiress of the Hearst family fortune who was kidnapped and then turned up in a bank heist where security cameras captured footage of her assisting the bank robbers who were her kidnappers. She was shown with rifle in hand. She had joined them and was part of their robbery.

No one could understand why she would do such a thing. The Stockholm Syndrome was cited as an explanation. To be clear it is not a psychological diagnosis. It is a way of understanding the emotional response some people have to their captors or abusers. According to Dan Brennan in WebMD (April 23, 2021), “This seems to happen over days, weeks, months, or years of captivity and close contact to the captor. A bond can grow between the victim and the captor.” Victims often help pay for the captors’ legal bills.

There is not much research on the issue because there are not that many people who experience it as individuals. I think what the researchers have missed is that it can apply to groups as well as a nation. I think that this may answer the question of why so many people in the Republican Party and in our nation have fallen under the spell of Trump.

Here is what a researcher found as characteristics of those who possess this syndrome. C S Sundaram in 2013 wrote an article, “Stockholm Syndrome” in Salem Press Encyclopedia, that includes the following to point out that it is paradoxical for the captives to feel the opposite of fear and disdain but sympathy for their captor. It doesn’t make sense to those who are looking on similar as the Hearst case.

Here are the four key components that Sundaram cites regarding individuals having this syndrome. “A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards the captor. No previous relationship between hostage and captor. A refusal by hostages to cooperate with police forces and other government authorities. A hostage belief in the humanity of the captor, ceasing to perceive them as a threat, when the victim holds the same values as the aggressor.”

Why does this occur? There are numerous explanations, but specifically for the politics of Washington, social justice, and our nation who can’t understand why we are in the state we are in, it is because by taking this position, the victim believes he or she will get that power in the future, as well as protection, and money. It is the same line of reasoning that Steven Levitt explored in his book, Freakonomics, regarding why drug dealers still live with their mothers. They do this because their mental calculus has their eyes on riding around in the big car with lots of money. The street guys and girls don’t make much money but are incentivized by those psychological desires of power, protection, and money. They also feel that the drug lord will always take care of them and come through for them putting his self-interest aside.

I think that we have been missing the boat in terms of why Trump (the captor) holds so many bright engaging people, like the robbers and Patty Hearst, in his spell. There is one other attribute that creates the Stockholm Syndrome, first named in 1973 by Nils Bejerot, a criminologist in Stockholm, Sweden regarding a confusing reaction to hostages in a bank raid and how they felt about their captor. What creates the syndrome is being in an emotionally charged situation for a long time. People said that we could not stand four more years of the emotional rollercoaster that we were on with Trump. We felt relief with the election of Biden. Now we are confused about the Republicans and Trump’s behavior. Today after McConnell and Schumer worked out a deal that showed bipartisan efforts, Trump and a good many Republicans chastised McConnell with personal attacks. He was a threat to their (captor) Trump, albeit in Levitt’s language, their drug Lord. What Levitt points out throughout his entire book is that conventional wisdom doesn’t often make sense to us. We need to think in unconventional ways at times. Understanding something enables us to move forward. That has been a central axiom of my life.

The further interesting thing for me is that it wasn’t a psychologist or psychiatrist who came up with this theory and it still is not listed in psychiatric categories. It was a criminologist. It takes a criminologist to know a criminal. How many felons did Trump have in his administration who came through his revolving door of appointments and then positions were filled with further examples of moral failure? How many cases are now in court looking for indictments against him for a variety of crimes? Only a criminologist who understands criminal behavior could point us in the right direction.

January 6 was the Stockholm Syndrome on steroids!

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